subTerrain started out as a dream, an idea of literary rebellion, a shadow-self calling out to be born. It was 1988, the nascent days of desktop publishing, and truly a transitional period in the world of print. For the first time in the history of printing, the means of production were actually in the hands of the masses. Armed with only a Personal PC, a “typesetting” software program (not some expensive commercial typesetting equipment such as a Compugraphic machine) and a laser printer, virtually anyone could produce a professional looking publication. Sure, Gestetners had been around for years, but that was basically a carbon-copy of a typewritten page. We were on the cusp of a new age: part digital, part mechanical. We’d layout the pages in Xerox Ventura Publisher, an early desktop program (Pagemaker, QuarkXpress and InDesign were still in utero), then pump them out from our postscript laser printer, wax the sheets down in printer’s spreads, strip in PMTs of photos and illustrations—no scanners in the early days!—and take the “flats” to the printer where they’d shoot negatives and expose the photo-sensitive metal plates that then went onto the offset press. And just like that—shebang!—we were publishers. From the outset, subTerrain has always incorporated images into its presentation. I found litmags of the time to be staid in their presentation and a bit snoozy to behold. For the most part, I guess I still do. We have always looked for material that was bold, striding, perhaps a bit out-of-bounds, writing and visuals that embodied our motto: Strong Words for a Polite Nation. It costs a fair bit of money to publish and distribute a magazine, and money—and the search for it—has always dogged us. We have tried owning our own press and printing the magazine ourselves (and came close to causing serious bodily injury while moving the 800-pound offset press from the flat-bed of a pickup truck in the pouring rain); we’ve held fundraisers, readings, nights of entertainment; we have dragged money from our own pockets and thrown it on the table; we’ve worked nights and weekends to get the issues out; many, many people have volunteered their time to assist with every facet of the publishing process; we’ve sold advertising; we’ve cashed in stacks of beer bottles, and applied for nearly every grant we’ve been eligible for, and still there is the ongoing need for cash. Publishing swallows it up and spits back cents on the dollar. But we still can’t stop doing it. Is it the uncensored freedom to publish whatever we like that keeps us at it? Is it the spirit of rebellion that refuses to die? Is it because we provide a venue unlike any other, a sanctuary for the literary cast-offs of the world? Perhaps. But what I really think it might be is our awareness of the vast privilege we hold at our fingertips as they hover above the keyboard: we hold the means of production, once (and not so very long ago) the purview of the rich and powerful. Issue #1 of subTerrain was twelve pages with a two-colour cover and it sold locally for two bucks. Forty-nine issues—and twenty years later—subTerrain #48 is a 56-page, partially colour magazine that sells across North America for six bucks. Twenty years! It has felt like ten. Twenty is young for a human, but elderly for cats and literary magazines. Over the years we have been reviewed far and wide. We’ve been nominated for awards, had stories selected for inclusion in the Journey Prize Anthology, and we continue to gain praise from new readers who are only now discovering us. Such kudos give us immense pleasure, knowing that there are many readers who are looking for something a little different, something a bit off the path most traveled; and with every issue we guarantee a few surprises, along with an ample serving of outlaw literature, a quick glimpse into the shadows.
—Brian Kaufman, Editor & Founder Reminiscing on twenty years of publishing subTerrain February 15, 2008.Back to top